Thursday, 13 November 2014

Guineas and Gunpowder. British foreign policy in the Napoleonic Wars

Sherwig’s well written and researched book focuses on the Guineas and Gunpowder that accompanied British diplomacy in its struggle against revolutionary and Napoleonic France. The book shows how the use of money developed from a contractual agreement on the use of troops like it had been during most of the 18th century to support for cash stripped allies, amounting to 66 million pounds over a quarter century. A considerable a mount in itself, but modest compared to the costs of the navy and the army in this period.

At first the instrument was used selectively as in the Prussian subsidy in 1794, but this caused resentment among other potential allies. Monetary and material support from 1805 was offered to anyone opposing Napoleon. As such the first surge was during the Peninsular War, where Portugal and Spain received support to the value of over 19 million pounds between 1808 and 1815. But the main effort occurred on the European mainland from 1812-5 when Russia, Prussia and Austria together received almost 15 million pounds, and minor states over 6 million. Especially Sweden got a good deal, if you consider it also got Norway out of it and did very little hard work during 1813 and 1814.

After 1805 the British foreign ministers also tried to make it an instrument to influence policy and strategy of allied states but as such it was only successful when foreign troops were under direct control of British generals in the Peninsula. On the other hand this soured the relationships with Portugal and Spain to the point that the former refused to send troops to the Low Countries in 1815.

The weakest link of supplying support to the Continent was that with British trade excluded by the blockade, very little cash and credit was available. Some of Wellington’s tensest letters to London were about the supply of silver and gold coins. But it is hard to fault the effort made by the government on this point.

The material side is astounding as well, showing that British industry became able to respond quickly to large surges in demand. While it had trouble supplying the Prussian army with tens of thousands of muskets in 1807, it supplied a million firearms to the continental allies by 1813. The interesting thing is that these great achievements were quickly accepted by allies as normal, and demands for British support often unrealistic.

While the use of foreign troops through subsidies was cost effective (foreign secretary Castlereagh estimated that a British soldier on the Continent would cost 60 to 70 pounds a year, and foreign governments were offered 10 to 15 pounds per soldier), it surrendered control of those troops to the interests of its allies and also did not help the British public image. Tsar Alexander was utterly disappointed in the lack of British military action where it would have counted in 1805 to 1807. It also allowed Napoleon to paint foreign coalitions as instruments of British policy.

I’d say this is a classic.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Lord of the Mind Bomb

In addition to the recent post on weird connections, I also have this memory of reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy while listening to The The's brilliant Mind Bomb.

It must have been spring 1989 as I was preparing for my final tests of that year. I often had the house to myself. There were beautiful days that I would climb out of the window to the small area on the flat roof where there were tiles to sit on. Shielded from the wind, the spring sun was warm enough to enjoy. I think I read the books in less than two weeks, and all that time I had the album on repeat on my walkman, so it became a de facto soundtrack for me.

The I still feel that Mind Bomb fits the story better than the Howard Shore soundtrack, excellent though that is. Somehow, the OST is more rooted in the Carmina Burana and The Planets while Mind Bomb just gives it that much more contemporary vibe. There was a touch of bombast to it as well, but I guess that just goes with the wide vistas and epic events that Tolkien invokes. But the great thing is that in every aspect it is one whole and not just a collection of songs. So the mood stays with you.

It wasn't just the music but also the lyrics that went along well with the books. Matt Johnson's frequent invocations violence, war and madness influenced my interpretation of the book. The talk of evil, religion and obedience in The Violence of Truth poses an interesting contrast to the two dimensional good and evil of Tolkien's world.    

In combination with the dark atmosphere of the album the creeping dread of The Fellowship of the Ring made a deep impression on me and I still rate it as the best of the three volumes.

Who is it 
that can make your little armies of the left 
and your little armies of the right 
light up your skies tonight?

The looming threat in Good Morning Beautiful and Armageddon Days Are Here Again was just made for the armies massing in the vales of Isengard and Rohan and on the plains of Mordor and Osgiliath.

What kind of man was I?
Who would delay your destiny to appease his tiny mind
Who could delay your destiny to appease his aching swollen pride
Who could delay your destiny to appease his screaming little mind
You're mine

August & September starts out as an intermezzo, with its mellow base and shuffle drums, but then slowly escalates into the manic creed at the end. It will have you at the edge of your seat in every passage of the book. Even Gravitate To Me has a leering attraction to it that closely resembles the working of the One Ring on anyone near it.

There is even a glimmer of hope in the ending of Beyond Love as the organ dies away.

Hard to imagine a better accompaniment to Frodo and Sam's lonely trek to Mount Doom than Kingdom of Rain, where Sinead O'Connor shows what a beautiful voice she has. Not forgetting the thunder at the end of the song reflecting the dying rumble of the volcano.

By the way, this was the song I heard on the radio one night and which made me decide to buy the album.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

From Dynasty to Banzaï to Matchbox

There’s weird connections in your brain, ya know? Stuff that apparently has nothing to do with each other but makes sense because it all came together at some point in your life. One of those weird connections to me is this one.

The memory came back to me playing Kiss' best selling album Dynasty. It connects me to a holiday on Schiermonnikoog, late 1979 or early 1980. Schiermonnikoog is a small island just north of the Dutch coast and a regular place for our spring or autumn holidays around that time.

Right then my brother and I had discovered a series of comic books depicting the history of WWII. At the time of this holiday we had just bought the volume on the war in the Pacific, and I remember reading it while listening to Dirty Livin’, a Peter Criss song which would be called a guilty pleasure now. I never got all the volumes of the series of eight comic books, and some only a decade ago. But the ones we had then, they’re worn out and very dear to me.

I also remember my brother and me playing with our Matchbox American infantry on the wooden floor of our holiday house with Ace Frehley's Save Your Love, another of my favourites from the album, in the background. I still love those Matchbox plastics although I gave almost all of it away a long time ago.

Monday, 3 November 2014

In der Beschränkung zeigt sich den Meister

Brendan Simms has written a beautiful short book on the defence of the La Haye Sainte farm during the Battle of Waterloo. Its garrison throughout the day consisted mostly of Germans and Simms adds new life to their story by introducing a lot of new first hand accounts and academic literature.

The book focuses on the events during the battle, but also offers a good introduction to the King’s German Legion and its role in the long struggle against Napoleon, and a very interesting post-script on the legacy of Waterloo in Hannoverian military history.

My only and minor quibble is that it overemphasises the importance of the farm to the outcome of the battle, but I guess that to justify the writing of the book.

In the torrent of English language books published leading up to the 200th anniversary it stands out for fresh perspective and research. Probably the final account of the struggle for La Haye Sainte from the allied perspective for the foreseeable future.

Take away: given that all three farms across the allied front (La Haye Sainte, Hougoumont and Papelotte) fell or almost fell due to a lack of ammunition, you wonder why arrangements for supply hadn’t been made. Didn’t the British army encounter this problem in their battles in the Peninsula

Brendan Simms, The Longest Afternoon. The 400 Men Who Decided The Battle Of Waterloo.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Review: Verzet tegen Napoleon

Verzet tegen Napoleon
Verzet tegen Napoleon by Lotte Jensen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nice book about the cultural side of the resistance against French domination of the Netherlands. Jensen shows that Dutch writers, poets and playwrights tried to maintain a separate identity by emphasising ‘typically Dutch’ characteristics like homeliness, frugality and . Under Napoleon’s brother Louis that separate identity was still officially promoted, but after the ‘reunion’ in 1810 it was increasingly subjected to imperial standardisation.

There were also attempts to express the resistance and grief caused by the loss of independence. These harkened back to historical parallels like the Batavian Revolt against the Roman Empire and the Revolt against Spain as well as Biblical references to the struggles of Israel.

To current readers the poetic qualities of these works will not have much value in themselves and they are mostly interesting for their social significance.

Best read in conjunction with Joor's Het Lam en de Adelaar

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Monday, 27 October 2014

Review: The Prussian Army of the Lower Rhine 1815

The Prussian Army of the Lower Rhine 1815
The Prussian Army of the Lower Rhine 1815 by Peter Hofschröer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A pretty solid effort by the Hof, building on previous work. There's a few jibes against anglo-saxon historiography, as expected. What I liked best was the section quickly detailing the origins, uniform and equipment of each regiment, showing what a hodgepodge the Army of the Lower Rhine was. Bonus is the information on the North German Federal Corps.

Excrutiatingly, there are no references anywhere in the booklet!

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Review: The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806

The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806
The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806 by Peter Paret

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent combination of military, art, social and intellectual history of the Prussian defeat at Jena and Auerstedt in 1806, and how it affected Prussian (and German) society, army and politics. Finally Paret distills this in an discussion of Clausewitz' theories on warfare, which he shows were influenced by much more than just military events.

I love how Paret weaves books like Kleist's The Prince of Homburg and paintings like The Chasseur in the Woods into his argument. Fascinating in their own right, especially in their relevance at the time they were made, they also have a wider significance.

One of the bravest books by a military historian.

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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review: De Adelaar En Het Lam: Onrust, Opruiing En Onwilligheid In Nederland Ten Tijde Van Het Koninkrijk Holland En De Inlijving Bij Het Franse Keizerrijk

De Adelaar En Het Lam: Onrust, Opruiing En Onwilligheid In Nederland Ten Tijde Van Het Koninkrijk Holland En De Inlijving Bij Het Franse Keizerrijk by Johan Joor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joor looks at the level of civil unrest in the Kingdom of Holland (1806-10) and the 'Dutch' departments of the French Empire (1810-13). He shows that it was pretty high by European standards (despite never reaching full scale armed revolt such as in Spain or Southern Italy) and by Dutch standards of the 17th and 18th centuries. This contradicts earlier books that assumed resistance to French and French backed authority was low.

The highest levels were recorded in 1809 and 1813, with higher levels from 1810-13 than before. Most important source of unrest was military service, followed by tax and smuggling and general opposition to French or French-backed authority. Religious and civilian disputes were rarely behind large scale unrest.

In terms of participants and modes of protest, there is strong continuity with 18th century forms of unrest. Mostly lower middle class craftsmen and farmers (rather than urban and rural poor), a high participation of women and mostly very local and disciplined. Where the protest were non-traditional was in their opposition to expanding role and power of the state (conscription, taxation).

Excellent, based on extensive research of primary sources. Includes lots of case studies, background information on policies, and on the means at the disposal of the authorities to deal with unrest.

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Thursday, 23 October 2014

First Impressions and Final Thoughts on Spiel 2014

There was some stuff that I hardly saw but quickly formed an opinion about:

Good impression: Historia was very much enjoyed by my friends. It offers a two-axis take on civilization with room for conflict.

Battle of the Five Armies: looks great as ever (but many of the miniatures are the same), and similar to Battles of Middle Earth. But maybe we should play those more before buying this one.
Greenland: the premise is great, but it’s three players.

Quartermaster General: this could still be Axis&Allies with less combat
Raid & Trade: didn’t see it played or explained but looked as if it had a lot of numbers on counters and the board. Excellent minis and artwork though.

Lord of the Ice Garden looked great, but the unpainted miniatures expansion adds €40 to €55 for the basic game.

Bad impression: Athlas, Empire Engine (cube producing micro game), Swedish Parliament (although the policy axes were nice), The Walled City (looked like Carcassonne the City and ignored the contentious history of Londonderry), 8 Minute Empire expansion (there is something contradictory to a micro game expansion)

Missed: Night of the Grand Octopus (but it will be in stores at some point), €uro Crisis, Airborne Commander, Fantastiqa, Fief: France 1429, Luchador, Nothing Personal, Pamietne Historie, Patchistory, Pocket Imperium, Samuari Spirit, Shinobi Clans, Stimmvieh, Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Wir Sind Das Volk, Battle at Kemble’s Cascade

It seems like I’ll need to play less to see more. I did that the last few years but I think I prefer playing to running around.

So how did I feel about this Spiel?

Even though I’m no longer excited by this year’s euro offering (Arler Erde looks too much like Agricola and Panamax might be another multiplayer solo hit) and Sci Fi and Fantasy have become mainstream (almost everybody has by now jumped on the zombie bandwagon) there is still room for excitement and surprise.

The Polish publishers have blossomed by adopting euro mechanisms but they keep applying them to historical theme. Now Greek, Romanian, Spanish and even Indonesian publishers are following in their wake. There is still so much unused and unique theme around one might despair of the next generic fantasy game. Wallace still produces interesting games, even if they are occasionally flawed. And there are still publishers wanting to take risks.

It’s been a good year.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Mythotopia and Spiel 2014 shopping

Saturday's 'one more for the road' game was Mythotopia, Martin Wallace's new offering. It's a bit of a cop out, really, to apply a mechanism to a fantasy (or sci fi) theme, but it works out well enough. As in A Few Acres of Snow the deck building mechanism is subordinated to the map manouever. You build the deck from 4 basic cards and 6 area cards, which gives every player a unique set of resources (grain, gold, bricks and military goods). You can add to your hand by conquering new areas and buying cards from the market for gold. What cards are for sales changes from game to game.

Another familiar feature of Wallace games is that you can take two actions, chosen from a wide variety of options. Some of the cards in your hand provide extra options (instead of playing them for resources). Most actions require playing resource cards from your hand. When you invade an area, the war is only resolved by a player ending it as the first action of her turn. This can protract wars as players keep adding resources to an area and tipping the balance.

There are challenges to your hand management once your deck grows, but the game offers the opportunity to place cards in a 'reserve' so you can use them for permanent effects or to save them for a better opportunity. But placing cards into the reserve counts as an action. There are also a few cards that help you draw extra cards or search your discard pile. Let's see about killer combo's...

You score victory points for the number of areas you hold and a range of achievements, the standard three being castles, cities and roads, and possible other special conditions: areas conquered, successful defense or dragons killed. However, for every type of achievement, there is a limited amount of times they can be claimed.

Victory is determined by a player claiming victory as the first action of his turn. Any running wars are resolved then, but you can only claim victory if you end up with the most points after resolution. We ended up very close to each other which made it impossible to clinch victory in the end. So we decided on a four way tie. I hope this is a one off bug, and not a feature. Despite the ending a good finish to the gaming side of the weekend! With the varying selection of cards available on the market and the changing set of victory conditions ensures a fair amount of replayability.

So what did I buy?

My buying strategy this year was focused on games I was pretty sure would make it to the table. I think I’ve managed that well. I’ve shied away from the overly complicated, and 2 and 3 player games, leaving micro games and multiplayer. Lost Legacy: Starship, Unicum, Auge um Auge, Mat Goceng and Verone have all been dealt with in the previous posts.

 Lost Legacy: Flying Garden looks very much like the Starship game, but with another ending. The cards of Flying Garden and Starship can be mixed for variation.

I was torn between First to Fight and Race to the Rhine. The latter is a game that is very close in design to what I had in mind myself about the breakout from Normandy to the Rhine in autumn 1944, as a logistic struggle between three allied players, rather than two player campaign. It also looks good, but I didn’t take time to see how it plays because there were always people playing the demo.

First to Fight has all the players controlling Polish forces over the course of WWII. Because the Polish forces were few and widely scattered, I felt it is a great challenge to get all that into one game in a coherent way. In the end the decision was based on Race to the Rhine being three players which made it unlikely to hit the table regularly.

Marchia Orientalis and 15 Dias are both games with a strong historical theme, which I like. Maybe they end up being forgettable additions to the genre of tile laying respectively influence building games, but I’m eager to find out.